In the 21st century, horror comedies have been something of a mixed bag. There have been some unwatchable ones out there: Like "The Cook." Really, really bad stuff.
When I think of horror comedy near misfires, "The Cottage" comes to mind. A weak comedy that tries to be a horror film and just fails in both genres.
And that's usually been the issue with horror comedies of late. They're made by filmmakers who want to make comedies, not horror films, so they end up as limp and lifeless direct-to-video atrocities.
Every now and then, however, a gem shows up -- a film that gets the horror and throws in comedy and it all works. "Jack Brooks Monster Slayer" is just such a movie. In fact, "Jack Brooks" is a great horror comedy. It's a great horror movie, and a good comedy.
You know the movie's heart is in the right place when it opens up with a cyclops monster in a Brazilian rain forest. We get a taste of some great non-CGI monster effects and screaming natives, before we meet Jack Brooks, the monster slayer of the film's title and get to learn his story.
A character that could have been written for a young Bruce Campbell, Brooks (Trevor Matthews) witnessed the death of his family at the hands of a werewolf-like monster as a child. Now, he's an angry plumber who is aattending what's apparently a high school lass for drop outs or a junior college night class where his mean, unappreciative girlfriend is also attending. Things get weird when the professor (Robert Englund) invites him to his home to fix his pipes.
There, a buried demon is accidentally awoken. With a beating heart that will not die, the creature possesses the professor, who shows up in class the next day looking like a cross between a zombie and a drunk -- throwing up on the chalkboard before he dismisses the class.
Englund is absolutely hilarious in the role. This is his best role, in fact, since he stopped playing Freddy Krueger, and he really displays his comic acting talents -- especially physical comedy. You don't appreciate what a great actor someone like him is until you see him in a great role outside of the character that he made iconic.
Meanwhile, Brooks is coming to grips with the death of his parents. When his professor finally transforms into a hilarious, Jabba the Hut-style monster that devours his students and turns them into "Evil Dead"-style possessed creatures, he's finally given the opportunity to kill monsters and exorcise his own demons.
Director Knautz wisely avoids CGI and makes "Jack Brooks" the kind of monster movie that we might have seen in the '80s. His first film is even better than "Slither", that other '80s-style monster comedy that came out a couple years earlier.
In short, "Jack Brooks" is the best horror comedy since "Shaun of the Dead." It's funny, sick, well-acted and surprisingly character driven. And it's ultimately Englund's performance that pulls the film out of better-than-average territory into the realm of horror comedy excellence.
One gripe: It could have been sleazier. It pulls the punches a little bit by maintaining its political correctness throughout. But, then again, this is 2008 -- not 1985.